FREDERICTON – You wouldn’t expect to see high school students hard at work in classes on a hot July day. But for this group of young SHAD program participants, the robotics lab on University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus is exactly where they want to be.
Initially founded in 1980, SHAD brings together students who are passionate about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) for a yearly, one-month long program of lectures, workshops, projects and activities at campuses across Canada. This year’s program theme is reducing Canada’s carbon footprint.
Loren Condie is a Grade 11 student from Waterville, Nova Scotia, a rural dairy community. She says she first heard about the SHAD program from her high school chemistry teacher and pursued it because she wanted to meet more people who thought like her and had similar ideas.
“I’m very glad I came. It’s been an amazing experience,” she says. “We learn about so many different topics and ideas and I find myself constantly writing down notes because I’ve never really had an experience like that and an opportunity to learn things I wouldn’t usually learn.”
“[The program] attracts people who want to make a change. They want to do something in the world but also they want to do something with their life. Either they want to start a business or they want to help someone or they want to just build the community around that.”
This year, UNB Fredericton is hosting 80 students, a record number for both the campus and the program itself. This sized cohort is giving program administrators the opportunity to test out a double cohort concept.
President and CEO of SHAD Tim Jackson says this is in part made possible by financial support from the provincial government. He says having a SHAD program in New Brunswick means having young people from across the country experience the province and young people from New Brunswick build networks they can use throughout their careers.
“For many of these students, particularly from rural, remote parts of the country, they don’t realize there are other students like them across the country,” Jackson says.
“I think the biggest thing, though, is they are now part of a network of 16,000 other SHADs who’ve gone through the program … If they write to another SHAD, they will get a response and with us now having been around for 35-odd years, you have SHADs that range in age from 15 years old to 50 years old.”
A high school graduate from Lethbridge, Alberta Sean Sander says he hopes to use the skills and experience from SHAD as he continues his education in engineering.
“When you’re around like-minded individuals and individuals who are also aspiring innovators, it’s really helpful to developing your own personality and character,” he says.
“On the first day, people may have felt a bit uncomfortable but a week or so in, everyone’s friends and we’re here to support each other. If one person needs help, there’s a group of people willing to help. Just with the values of SHAD, everyone here is connected. No one is left behind.”
Dan Doiron is a business faculty member at UNB Saint John. He’s helping out with the SHAD program and says they’re giving the students a chance to find out what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
“We have them find products, meet with entrepreneurs, build business plans, prototypes, sort of experience being an entrepreneur so someday if they get their engineering degree, they might choose a path of entrepreneurship instead of going to work for a big company,” Doiron says.
Jackson says SHAD the programming stays relevant by keeping program directors connected with each other and aware of what’s happening on other campuses. They also work with local business communities to bring entrepreneurs and business leaders into the program to provide direct experience to the students.
He hopes the program at UNB will serve as a model of what they’ll be able to do with future programs, potentially incorporating a French immersion program.
“New Brunswick has always led the way in terms of being an innovative province and innovative culture,” he says.
“We’re leveraging that to say ‘let’s try something a little bit different and see if we can use it to enhance our program in future years.’”